Researching the politics of development



Working Paper: Pro-poor urban politics

9 June 2014.
ESID‘s latest Working Paper explores “what we have learnt about how to instigate and embed pro-poor government in towns and cities of the global South”, with a particular focus on how politics emerges in informal settlements. Politics, informality and clientelism – exploring a pro-poor urban politics was written by Diana Mitlin, who is Associate Director at the Brooks World Poverty Institute, coordinates of ESID capacity-strengthening activities, and leads our research project on the Jawarlahal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) in India.
Diana has spent decades studying and collaborating with organisations working with the urban poor, and in this Working Paper she synthesises the complicated landscape of informal politics and clientelism in informal urban settlements and the strategies that civil society groups pursue to empower the urban poor.

Here are some excerpts from the paper:

Clientelist relations are particularly prevalent in informal settlements, due to the lack of services and the need to negotiate with politicians and sometimes officials to secure such investments.
In the absence of adequate land for housing, services and employment, households develop strategies to secure patrons, building relationships with powerful individuals who help them secure access to needed goods and services. Patrons help residents secure access to the goods and services that they need and a typical return gesture is that residents commit their votes to patrons or to those that the patrons represent. Whether legal or not, patrons work within state structures that are broadly supportive of their role.
The case against clientelism recognises that there are gains, but also suggests that these are limited and come at some cost. The clientelist state pre-empts and prevents a political collective response by creating and reinforcing vertical relationships between leaders and the state, and between leaders and residents in informal settlements.
Networked community groups recognise both the need for change and the significance of existing power relations that have to be overcome.
New local organisations are nurtured and the processes are designed to establish a level of collaboration with the state at the level of the city, while at the same time changing the underlying distribution of power, such that new practices and outcomes are possible.

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